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Rob Milne
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During the course of his research into the Battle of Bergendal my friend, Huffy Pott, visited the military cemetery near Airlie station in the Elands Valley. After complaining about the overgrown state of the cemetery to the National Monuments Council, Huffy later visited the manager of the farm, Geoff York, at "Ryton Estates" to find out exactly where the Nooitgedacht prisoner of war camp had been. Unknown to him the National Monuments Council had written to Geoff and asked him to clean up the cemetery. Geoff showed him the letter and then told him a "ghost story". The last grave in the cemetery records that Major R. L. MacGregor, 1st Battalion the Royal Scots, died there on 2nd April 1901. Geoff and his wife Anita walked down to the cemetery to ensure that it had been cleared properly, and took their Jack Russell terrier with them. He smartly examined each grave, sniffed here and there, and lifted his leg a few times. When he got to the last grave, he froze, growled menacingly, and all the hackles on his neck rose. Geoff and Anita thought he had seen a snake, but the area had been cleared and they could see no reason for his aggressive behaviour. Suddenly he turned and, with tail between his legs, he ran away. This is when Geoff said, "He must have seen a ghost !"

A few weeks later they saw an elderly couple poring over a large book opposite the cemetery. Thinking they were lost, they asked if they could help. The elderly couple said that they just visited the cemetery, and told them that Major MacGregor, in the last grave, had committed suicide. A few months later Huffy's White River friend, James MacGregor, revealed that Major MacGregor was his great uncle, and he still had correspondence about his death at his home, Lochaber. James found a letter from Lt.-Colonel William Douglas, the commanding officer of the Royal Scots Regiment, explaining the circumstances leading up to the suicide. It revealed that his great uncle was depressed, and being undiagnosed and without help, the Major shot himself. It turned out that there was a history of depression in the family, so we conclude that, through Huffy, the Major was passing this message on.

This story has a strange sequel. Huffy was looking for pictures of horses in Wilson's book entitled "With the Flag to Pretoria" and "After Pretoria - the Guerrilla War". There are 1724 pages in these four volumes and, putting Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas' letter to one side, he chanced to open volume 3 page 585. Instead of finding a picture of a horse he found a photograph of Lt.- Colonel William Douglas, whose letter he had just put aside. Huffy had unwittingly become a cog in the supernatural wheel that linked the Major with his great nephew, and brought the family history of depression to his attention.

There was yet another strange sequel to this story fifteen years later. I heard that Major MacGregor’s grave had been desecrated late in 2011 but could get no further information from the local newspapers. On 17th March 2012 I met my friend Louis-John Havemann from Nelspruit at the grave. Louis-John had spent hours clearing the thick bush before I arrived and we examined the grave together. There were no obvious signs of damage so we took some photographs and drove to Louis-John’s farm outside Nelspruit for the rest of the weekend. On downloading my photographs I noticed that a strange shape looking like a ball of cotton-wool had appeared above and to the right of Major MacGregor’s headstone. It certainly had not been there when we had taken them, and it only appeared in two of my photographs. I remarked at the time that it could be a message or a warning. Three months later the Major’s great nephew, James MacGregor, died suddenly at his home in White River.

Louis-John Havemann (left) and the author standing beside the headstone of Major MacGregor near Airlie station, in the Elands River Valley between Waterval Onder and Nelspruit.

Louis-John Havemann (left) and the author standing beside the headstone of Major MacGregor near Airlie station, in the Elands River Valley between Waterval Onder and Nelspruit.
 
(Photograph credit Louis-John Havemann). The original headstone of Major MacGregor which was rescued from the veld, together with other British headstones which had been made by the POW’s at Nooitgedacht camp. These headstones have now been built in a wall of the MOTHS Jannie Viljoen Shellhole in Nelspruit.

(Photograph credit Louis-John Havemann). The original headstone of Major MacGregor which was rescued from the veld, together with other British headstones which had been made by the POW’s at Nooitgedacht camp. These headstones have now been built in a wall of the MOTHS Jannie Viljoen Shellhole in Nelspruit.
When Louis-John Havemann and I visited Major MacGregor’s grave on 17th March 2012, a strange object above and to the right of the headstone was picked up by my camera. It looks almost like a ball of cotton-wool, but did not appear in any of Louis-John’s photographs. I said at the time that this has to be a message or warning from the late Major. Three months later his great-nephew suddenly passed away.

When Louis-John Havemann and I visited Major MacGregor’s grave on 17th March 2012, a strange object above and to the right of the headstone was picked up by my camera. It looks almost like a ball of cotton-wool, but did not appear in any of Louis-John’s photographs. I said at the time that this has to be a message or warning from the late Major. Three months later his great-nephew suddenly passed away.

ROB MILNE

Rob MIlne

Rob Milne was born in Johannesburg in 1953 and educated at St. David's Marist College and the University of the Witwatersrand. From an early age he spent most of his free time in the veld exploring the South African battlefields with his father, developing a keen interest in the Second Anglo-Boer War, archeology and geology.

Rob Milne
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